Powerful vocal harmonies and intimate melodies. Meet American folk band Frances Luke Accord for a talk about music, love songs, social commitment... and peanut butter.
FRANCES LUKE ACCORD
"Vocal duets and harmonies will always be a central pillar of our art."
Purpose, perspective, patience and (if you're Brian) peanut butter
You may wonder about the headline of this article. So, let's just tell you right away. This is what Nicholas Gunty finds to be the essential ingredients to a good song: purpose, perspective, patience and (if you're Brian) peanut butter.
The 'Brian' in question is Brian Powers, one-half of Frances Luke Accord. In this interview, though, we're talking to the band's other half, Nicholas Gunty, as he sits in his studio in Philadelphia. It's wet and overcast outside, he tells us, but the window is open and what was mere hours ago a hot muggy mess has cooled into a gentle late-summer breeze. The asphalt alleyway outside his window is quiet except for the occasional sparrow calling from the canopy, "undoubtedly pleased by all the rain," according to Nicholas.
Delicate vocal harmonies and intimate melodies
He and Brian Powers are renowned for their delicate and powerful vocal harmonies, intimate melodies and soulful, effortless indie-folk orchestrated with sophisticated acoustic instrumentation. The band has been compared to the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Bon Iver and Jose Gonzales, yet their musical world is very much their own:
"Vocal duets and harmonies will always be a central pillar of our art. But if that's all we had to focus on we would both get bored in a heartbeat. We strive to put our work in conversation with our favourite artists of the past and present, but at the end of the day the most important thing to us is whether we sound like ourselves," says Nicholas.
Love songs tend to stay around a little longer
One subject and a lasting source of inspiration for Frances Lukes Accord's lyrical universe is love:
"Marty Robbins said once that love songs were his favourite type of music to listen to. That they 'tend to stay around a little longer.' Love stories and relationships are at the centre of the whole picture of life, so they are also at the centre of our lyrical and literary interests.
But love is just one mystery and from it branches out so many other fascinating mysteries. What does it mean to love oneself, for example, or for that matter, to love one's community or one's environment? What about loving a stranger? To loosely paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut: 'Practicing any art, no matter how well or poorly, not for recognition but to experience becoming, will make your soul grow.'"
Frances Luke Accord is known for this commitment, whether it's love on a personal level or social responsibility on a larger scale. Their single, Maria, is no exception:
"Maria was written largely in response to the hurricane of the same name whose first anniversary we are about to pass. Hurricane Maria was the third consecutive deadly hurricane to hit the northeastern Caribbean in just two weeks. It now is widely considered the worst natural disaster in the history of Dominica and Puerto Rico and remains the Atlantic's deadliest storm in more than a decade.
The official death toll is now nearly 3,000. Its story is our story, the story of an evolving planet, of unwarranted suffering, of the willful ignorance of the powerful, and of the tragic loss of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters," says Nicholas.
No person is an island
He feels that music can certainly be a way of taking social responsibility and showing commitment – but it doesn't have to be. Art can also be self-serving, and just like any job, it has to be if you want to put food on the table and a roof over your head.
"Besides, our ability to make ethical statements with our work is no more or less fundamental to being artists than it would be to being bankers, politicians, plumbers or middle school teachers. No person is an island. Everybody's role in life has an ethical valence to it, regardless of whether or not we acknowledge it."
The great songs
When we ask Nicholas about his own favourite songs, the answer doesn't include the usual suspects. Instead, he highlights songs from more obscure artists:
"The first tune is Darlingside's Birds Say, because I'm a huge sucker for unconventional time signatures. And because Darlingside's vocal arrangement made the already gorgeous tune really sing... pun fully intended," says Nicholas with a smile.
"Chris Dupont's culminating track Antiphon from his recent record Outlier has got to be the second to mention. Because Chris and I are both Midwesterners, there's something deeply transcendent about the atmosphere of his music, especially that song, which speaks to the ineffable heritage he and I happen to share. The song brings me to tears nearly every time I hear it and I can't explain why.
Number three is Humbird's December, a single of hers from earlier this year which I had the pleasure of hearing performed solo on just the Sansula during a small gathering in my hometown on one of our off days. It was magical.
People are unsurprisingly quick to assert how beautiful Siri's voice and songwriting are, but to reduce the magic to beauty belies the depth of spirit and fullness of heart that she brings to all her work. She is brilliant."
Frances Luke Accord are also busy making their own musical magic, and Nicholas concludes by encouraging us to stay tuned for coming announcements about new music and an accompanying tour early next year.
Discover more at: www.franceslukeaccord.com
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